Trade bodies can only do so much without their members’ input. To get real value out of them, industry leaders must get involved and drive the agenda forward

By and large, trade associations get a bad press. There are certainly too many of them in construction and their purpose is not always clear. And it is often hard to see what real commercial value they offer their members.

The Major Contractors Group has had its share of detractors and it is no secret that a number of major players in the industry are not MCG members. I’ve also had doubts about its value to my business. But I believe the key to a truly effective trade body is for its members to do more than simply pay their subscription. Unless you are prepared to get involved and drive forward the agenda, you may as well save your money.

In that respect, the MCG is fortunate. Its members are all industry leaders who get involved in its evolution. We have just launched a new business plan that heralds some significant changes in direction.

We will continue to lobby government, either on our own or through our membership of the Construction Confederation. It is here that we are succeeding in improving the PFI process and in influencing the shape of the new CDM regulations and the construction industry tax scheme. But we do not want to focus solely on lobbying.

Another target is to improve the collective performance of the UK construction industry. The effort we have made over the past five years on health and safety has made a real difference. Accident rates on MCG sites have fallen by more than a third.

Another current initiative aims to tackle a serious occupational health risk – hand-arm vibration syndrome. From January next year, we have made a commitment only to use hand-powered tools that have undergone independent testing to measure the risk in using them.

By benchmarking performance through a consistent database provided by Loughborough University, we intend to accelerate the development of power tools to reduce the risks placed on workers.

Recent national concerns about migrant workers have reopened the debate about whether we are doing enough to train the people who already live here. We are not.

The MCG aims to provide leadership to increase the intake of new recruits and the commitment towards training. We have seen this work with our qualifying the workforce initiative so we know it can be done.

The 2012 Olympics provide an ideal platform for doing this. We have the full support of the client, the Olympic Delivery Authority, and it will be part of our contribution to the Olympic legacy. Our aim is simple: to create 1000 youth training placements and 1000 adult training placements. This is not a new initiative but we will work with local agencies, CITB-ConstructionSkills and the Prince’s Trust to make it happen.

We also want to tackle sustainability in a more concerted way. The work we are already doing on health and sustainability and recruitment and training clearly counts towards our sustainability goals but we want to do more. We are beginning by seeking a common definition of sustainability and deciding the priorities.

Improvements in these areas will benefit both our clients and the community. As a trade body, the MCG has always attached importance to client relationships, particularly within the public sector. We have regular meetings with the main spending departments, the Treasury and the No 10 policy unit. Often the talk is what government can do for us. Over the next 12 months we want to turn this round.

We want to open a pragmatic dialogue with key clients, both public and private, on “what it is they would really like from the industry” and “what the industry needs to change to move towards such objectives”.

We are well aware that the industry embraces everything from conceptual solutions through planning, design, procurement, to construction, maintenance and demolition and that it is the performance of the whole team that matters, but as major contractors we are involved in many of these stages and we feel the dialogue needs to start somewhere. Maybe it can embrace others as it develops.

Individual companies within the MCG have different strategies, competences and competitive advantages. We feel this is quite proper as it increases the options open to our clients and we do not seek to change this. However, we do believe there are still areas where it is wholly appropriate to develop an industry approach.